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Current statutory employment rights in the UK stem from a variety of legislation, mostly a series of Acts and Regulations passed in the 1990s and early 2000s – chief among which is the Employment Rights Act 1996. Other key pieces of legislation are the Equality Act 2010, the Employment Relations Act 1999 and the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992.

The enforcement of most rights relies on affected employees to bring a claim before an employment tribunal. Three of the most common rights about which tribunal cases are brought relate to unfair dismissal, unauthorised deduction from wages and working time.

Unfair dismissal

Part 10 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 provides employees with the right not to be unfairly dismissed.  In most cases the employee must have two years’ continuous service with their employer to qualify to bring a claim.

Broadly, it is for the employer to show that the dismissal was for a potentially fair reason (capability or qualifications, conduct, redundancy, statutory restriction of employment or some other substantial reason justifying dismissal). Once the employer has shown that (which it often easily does), the fairness of the dismissal depends on whether, in the circumstances, the employer had acted reasonably in treating the reason as sufficient for dismissing the employee.

In assessing this, tribunals will look to whether the employer’s conduct in dismissing the employee fell within the range of reasonable responses to the reason for dismissal. The tribunal will also assess whether the employer followed a fair procedure, often by reference to the ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures.

There are many types of dismissal deemed automatically unfair. For example, dismissal for union membership, for asserting statutory rights or for family-leave related reasons. Many, although not all, of these reasons are set out in Part 10 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 and are discussed in more detail in other sections of this paper.

Deduction from wages

Section 13(1) of the Employment Rights Act 1996 provides that an employer cannot lawfully make deductions from wages unless entitled to by the contract of employment, statute or because the worker has previously consented in writing to the deduction.

This restriction does not apply to certain deductions, including for taxes, reimbursing the employer for expenses or overpayments, or because of a worker’s participation in industrial action or a statutory disciplinary proceeding.

The definition of wages used is broad, including holiday pay, statutory sickness or leave pay, bonuses and commission, but excluding expenses, pensions and redundancy pay.

If an employer makes an unauthorised deduction from wages the employee may complain to an employment tribunal. The claim must be brought within three months of the failure to pay the wages. Where a series of deductions occurs, the time limit runs from the last deduction in the series.

Working time

Subject to various qualifications discussed below, the Working Time Regulations 1998 limit average working time to 48 hours per week and eight hours per night for night workers and entitle workers to:

  • a daily rest period of eleven hours in each 24-hour period;
  • a weekly rest period of 24 hours in each seven-day period;
  • a 20-minute rest break once daily working time exceeds six hours; and
  • 6 weeks’ annual leave

These implemented EU law on working time consolidated in Directive 2003/88/EC (the ‘Working Time Directive’). The Regulations set limits on weekly working time and night work, and provide rights to rest periods and breaks. Since the UK’s departure from the European Union and the passage of the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Act 2023, these Regulations form part of assimilated law.

“Working time” is defined under the Regulations as including any period during which the worker is working, at the employer’s disposal and carrying out their activity or duties, or undertaking certain types of work-related training. Employment contracts or collective/workforce agreements may specify additional types of working time for the purposes of the Regulations.

These Regulations do not apply to certain seafarers, transport workers or emergency services.

The 48 hour weekly working limit does not apply where an employer has obtained a worker’s agreement in writing to “opt-out” of it. This may relate to a specific period or apply indefinitely. Unless the agreement provides otherwise, it is terminable by the worker if they give at least seven days’ written notice (any otherwise agreed notice period cannot exceed three months). Workers cannot be subjected to detriment or dismissal for refusing to enter into or continue such an opt-out – any such dismissal is automatically unfair.

The Government has published guidance on calculating working time, including information on which hours count as working time.

Other issues

In addition to these three issues, this briefing also includes discussion of other key employment law issues such as:

  • Agency Workers
  • Bullying
  • Disciplinary and grievance
  • Equality and discrimination
  • Family-related leave
  • Flexible working
  • Holiday
  • Industrial action
  • National Minimum Wage
  • Redundancy
  • Statement of initial employment particulars
  • Statutory Sick Pay
  • Transfer of undertakings & protection of employment
  • Variation of contract
  • Whistleblowing

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